This biblical study regarding the question of divorce will look at the words of Jesus and the Apostle Paul when they spoke of divorce rights.
It may come as a surprise to many Bible students that Jesus at no time stated that sexual immorality (adultery) was the ONLY "just-cause" basis for a morally lawful divorce.
The God of the Bible is a moral God and He has provided a right to an
“expectation” of personal peace within moral living
when we marry.
Why " CONTEXT" IS KING
Jesus always placed His responses within the
of the question asked.
" of a Bible passage can be understood as the
"setting" (the situational environment)
of the targeted
being talked about.
When being asked about divorce rights, Jesus Christ upheld the right to divorce for
This study will begin by taking a look at Matthew 19, where Jesus is questioned about divorce by certain Pharisees:
"And some Pharisees came to Him,
Him, and saying, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for
" any cause at all'"
The right of divorce as being allowed
"for any cause at all"
(as stated by the Pharisees who came to test Jesus) was the
for their question to Jesus.
The question that "some Pharisees" had asked was a
They knew the teaching of Moses (when the Theocracy had been in effect) had not instituted a divorce process "...for
The Book of
, Chapter 24, verse 1, speaks to this question:
"When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house,..." The Reader of this passage, can understand, that in the religious/civil government Moses instituted, divorce had , ..." never been open-ended ....for, "... any cause at all ..." - as some of the Pharisees had wrongfully stated to Jesus (in order to “test” Him). Within the allowance of divorce for some “indecency”- God, through Moses) had placed into effect a careful system of natural restraint wherein a husband would be compelled to think carefully before sending her away: Deuteronomy 24:1-3 - When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency [uncleanness] in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife, and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, The term, then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, ...” "..sending her away.." is another way of stating that she was being divorced. of the Within this earlier (under Moses) type of governing this religious people, the Lord had instituted a simple and non-bureaucratic system of divorce that had natural restraints within its divorce procedure (within the framework of stopping sexually promiscuous behavior under the divorce right). Once a husband divorced his wife, he could NEVER have her again. A husband would need to think long and hard before acting out his right to "sending her away" (in spite of the finding of some “indecency” in her). A husband and wife would be less likely to collude regarding divorcing because of this restriction, once divorced. [agree together] A wife, herself, would be less likely to make herself unpleasant within some "indecency" framework, to effect a divorce certificate. This, then, is the historical environment behind the question that had been asked of Jesus regarding divorce rights. Matthew, Chapter 19 When looking closely to the context of the, "some Pharisees" question (in Matthew 19) to Jesus, regarding divorce rights -- the Bible student will find that it is helpful to examine the account by Mark, who writes of this same event that Matthew writes about: Mark 10:2 "And some Pharisees came up to Him, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife." Matthew explores this same situation within a larger framework than Mark does, but it is the same event they are both referring to in their writings. (he writes more about it) Matthew's context includes the words, "...for any cause at all?" - question (they were making the claim to Jesus, that to divorce for any cause at all was a "right" given to them by God in an attempt to test Him), and Mark makes note of the words,... whether it is [was] for a man to divorce a wife. lawful Each writer keeps Jesus' words (of His reply) within the focus subject of interest, regarding the question(s) asked. author's -- In verse 4, Matthew 19:4-6 In His reply, Jesus, sets the historical stage in response to their question regarding divorce rights, by presenting the intentions of God for creating marriage in the first place. Notice also, that Jesus will let them know that He is aware they had wrongfully stated the question. "And He [Jesus] answered and said, 'Have not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, 'For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh'? Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate. " you By these words, "...let no man ["anthropos" - a human being] separate [come between them]," Jesus let those who had asked the question understand that no person had a right to desire the spouse of another and attempt to seduce him/her away from his/her spouse The First Century Setting The Jews had not been living under the Old Covenant Theocracy for over 400 years by the Time of Christ and they hadn't up to this moment brought into the conversation, the divorce Law under Moses. They had merely asked the question, "Is it lawful to divorce his wife for any cause at all?" After hearing Jesus' history lesson regarding the intentions of God for creating Marriage in the first place, the Questioners appeared to believe they had Jesus in an uncomfortable position, as they then challenged Him with the Law under Moses: "They said to Him, 'Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?' Matthew reports Jesus' reply: "He [Jesus] said to them, 'Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted youto divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.'" Jesus was providing them the target moral reason why a right to Divorce had been necessary (the divorce law instituted by Moses) and why this right had remained in effect within a morally fallen world. By replying to the "test" question in such a manner, Jesus targeted the underlying moral failure of Mankind - both, male and female - to live within the "intentions" of God. Within this initial reply to the "test" question, Jesus did not deny that Moses had instituted a divorce right or that a divorce right remained. That Jesus intended to correct the false statement they had made (within the question asked) is clear by His replies. Jesus, continued His reply by targeting the lie within their question, said: " And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, ,and marries another woman commits adultery..." except for immorality This reply exposed the deceit within their initial question regarding, their use of the words, "...for any cause at all." -- Here, once more, is the question Jesus was responding to: "And some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?" Jesus stated clearly in this reply to the "test" question, what they already knew to be true. They knew divorce had NOT been lawful or moral for, "...any cause at all." Jesus exposed their attempt at deceit, and noted that under Moses there had been a divorce right (and He did not deny that there would be a divorce "right" under the New Covenant). He used His own authority to affirm it: "And say to you I Jesus made a defining statement within the context of the question asked (that ishow He always responded.) One of the reasons it is sometimes difficult to understand some of Jesus' responses (by the present-day reader) is because HE consistently went for the TARGET MORALITY. When He stated that if an eye caused you to sin (Matthew 5:29) a person should remove the eye, He was not teaching self-mutilation... Jesus often taught using strong comparisons - powerful imaging - in order to teach that essential morality -- Here, it is the lesson that sin (unrepented of) has terrible consequences ~ living in sin brings separation from God. Within Marriage: Sexual unfaithfulness destroys the meaning of marriage (unlawful sexual activity is defined within the word Jesus chose to use). Because Jesus was keeping his replies directly connected to the discussion and its context,does not preclude other reasons for divorce based on immoralities (within the word Jesus chose) as Paul in his writings confirms to his readers --- the Bible is consistent in its moral teachings. Why Mark's account is helpful in understanding Jesus' response to the Divorce question: Mark's Account Examining closely Mark's account of the same event helps clarify this biblical concept of contextual precision in which the New Covenant documents were written: Mark 10:2 "And some Pharisees came up to Him, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was itself, is historically and morally irrelevant lawful for a man to divorce a wife." Mark's attention focuses on the word "lawful" in regards to the divorce question. "And He [Jesus] answered and said to them, "What did Moses command you?" Mark's context focus, is "...whether it was for a man to divorce a wife." lawful Mark made the decision to report Jesus' response on this aspect of the divorce question. Mark quotes Jesus as beginning His reply with a question about the lawfulness of divorce under Moses (staying faithfully within the context of the question). Mark gives us their reply to Jesus' question: "And they said, "Moses permitted a man TO WRITE A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY." Mark reports the same historical and moral lesson regarding the original intentions of God for creating marriage, that Matthew reported: "But Jesus said to them, 'Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made the two shall become one flesh; consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." A reader who has come this far (within this study), can understand that Jesus was not denying that God had provided a divorce right under the Old Covenant nor did Jesus deny a divorce right remained for His followers (within His reply to them during this question-and-reply incident). Mark notes (at this point) in his telling of the account, that the discussion between the "some Pharisees" stopped regarding their question about divorce rights -- (the Pharisees had realized that their "test" question had produced no incorrect answer from Jesus -- which is what they had been going for). For them, the discussion had ended. After entering the house, it was the Disciples of Jesus, that began questioning Him about the divorce right. Once again, Jesus' reply went for the target morality. "And He said to them, 'Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.'" Mark 10:10 The reader’s understanding is constrained by the context of the situation both Matthew and Mark are reporting. Another way of expressing the framework of these words, is that Jesus was reminding them, that without a “just-cause” for divorcing, it is (and was) not lawful (moral) to divorce and remarry without committing sin (Remember this is the same account as Matthew records). When/if a reader takes this reply out of its context (which has been done many times), this verse appears to be stating that Jesus is claiming in Mark's account that there is (was) NO RIGHT to divorce and remarry without committing sin; and His reply appears to conflict with Matthew's account. A careful student of scripture understands that Mark and Matthew do not conflict in their reporting of this situation. This type of study clarifies why every believer has been told to: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth." 2 Tim 2:15 The First Century - Divorce "Process" Jesus acknowledged that the divorce , process (not essential) to the primary morality of "just-cause" basis for a right to divorce: Jesus, (speaking) within the First Century "divorcing" environment was recognizing the Roman right of a woman to divorce her husband, applying it to His hearers' lives and He made no suggestion that this would have been an incorrect moral view regarding divorce processes within the divorce right. The Jews within the First Century had not been living under/ within the Theocracy for over 400 years. Thus, in Mark 10:12, Jesus speaks regarding women divorcing their husbands "... and if she, herself, divorces Among the Jews (as well as the Romans), men and women, were divorcing their spouses. her husband......" To make sure a reader understands Jesus' replies correctly, it is helpful to remember once again that this is the same event that Matthew records (which reveals that Jesus was not ruling out a “just-cause” right to divorce nor was He ruling out a right to remarry upon divorce). Jesus' response was relevant within the First Century context (and historically as to fact) of each question being examined by Matthew and Mark. The author-focused context in Matthew and Mark supports the reality/facts of the situation that the disciples understood that there had been (and was) a “just-cause” basis for divorce and had carried that information with them, into the house. In other words, they knew Jesus had not been teaching against all divorce and remarriage rights (in the house) even though to the (less careful) reader of a later time, it could (and has been) mistakenly taken as though He is presenting such a view in Mark's account. Another way of stating the biblical view, is that Jesus had already stated earlier (in the hearing of His disciples) that a divorce "right" for "any cause at all" was NOT correct morality in response to the exact question's context. The context of Mark's account reveals that the disciples had concerns about the lawfulness of divorcing when there was no "just-cause" basis Jesus' reply in the house is exactly what the reader expects within the logical consistency of His reply to the earlier question regarding divorce rights that He had stated to the Pharisees; divorcing and remarrying is adultery against the present spouse unless the divorce had been for "just-cause." Here is His reply again: " And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, , and marries another woman commits adultery..." EXCEPT for immorality Jesus was defining for them, the morality of each type of divorce - a moral divorce or an immoral divorce. Jesus had upheld the RIGHT of divorce specifically within the context of the question(s) - using the word meaning a wider immorality than adultery...for fornication/ adultery/incest, ...sexual immorality. figurative idolatry Why did Jesus choose the Jesus could have used the Greek word, "moicheia” defined, "adultery"~ if He were teaching that adultery is the only "just-cause" basis for divorce. word He used when replying to the "test" question: STAYING WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF THE EXCHANGE that both Matthew and Mark recounts, Jesus' reply is consistent (both historically accurate and as to the target morality). Jesus did not use the word, “moicheia.” Contextually: It follows that within this context of His teaching that while there was NO divorce "RIGHT "for [merely] ANY CAUSE, (and never had been) Mark's account must be read as Jesus explaining to them that if a man or woman divorces his/her spouse (and remarries) then the man or woman who had divorced his/her spouse without a just-cause... without a just-cause, was committing adultery against that spouse. There is no other rational/logical/consistent way to understand this exchange regarding a right to divorce that both Matthew and Mark recounts (and the Apostle Paul will later acknowledge and expand upon within his writings). Examining this exchange as recorded in Matthew’s document, does not allow any reader to make the statement that Jesus was teaching that sexual immorality (an act or acts of adultery) is the ONLY “just-cause" basis for divorce. This is not what Jesus was teaching. Jesus clearly taught that there was ~ and is ~ a divorce and remarriage right. In naming "immorality" which carries within it's definition, sexual sins, yet not limited to them, as a just-cause basis for divorce, Jesus kept His reply within the context of His own "teaching" and " authoritative" reply. Jesus had full moral "Authority" to choose the defining word to use regarding the subject of divorce rights. Jesus, at no time stated that sexual immorality was the ONLY "just-cause" basis for a morally lawful divorce. If He had wanted to do this, He could have used the more limiting of the words regarding sexual unfaithfulness - an act of adultery - which He did not do. What He did DO: He used the word that describes unfaithfulness within marriage as a wider immorality than sexual sins (which includes immoral living behavior and choices while married). In other words, Jesus chose a word defining "just-cause" reasons for divorce as implying much more than the act(s) of adultery only -- (while the word, adultery, expresses the DENIAL of the of marriage --- that the two will be one flesh, it does not express other types of unfaithfulness). meaning The definition of the word Jesus used includes a betrayal of the His choice for defining the immorality which provides a "just-cause" basis for divorce, includes unfaithfulness to all the morality of God, which is included within the word Jesus chose, as ~ "Figurative Idolatry." Every marriage is to uphold the morality of God during its existence. meaning of marriage along with not living a moral life with one's spouse which is "figurative idolatry." The word He used within the context of the question(s) and the meaning of marriage is: "porneia" this word conveys a much wider meaning than the word designating an act(s) of adultery (“moicheia”). The word, "porneia" is defined, "harlotry (including adultery and incest), figurative idolatry - fornication." When Jesus used the word, "porneia" which includes the term, "figurative idolatry " within its definition -- the reader understands (or can understand if he/she has not already been misled) that Jesus was teaching that marriage does not destroy every human right that a person has been given from his/her birth by God merely because the person has gotten married. The use of the word within any discussion or response regarding divorce rights means that a person cannot be forced to live within a relationship that is not sustaining of (expressing/living within) the morality of the God of the Bible. Jesus continued support of His use of this word within the context of marriage and divorce when He made this statement: Matthew 5:27-28 "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart." At first glance, Jesus appears to add lust to His reason for divorce along with an immoral use of the mind. In factual terms, He did not actually add it here --- it is inherent within the word that He chose to use ; when replying to their test question (regarding Moses and divorce rights), along with His explanation of the meaning of marriage. Jesus Christ was not saying that when a man merely looks at a woman (by implication; or when a woman looks at a man) and may wonder what it would be like to sleep with that person that he/she is committing adultery in his/her heart. The Greek word, "lust" here is a very strong word denoting obsessive thoughts and behavior over and above ordinary human sexual desire or interest. The Apostles also understood that the term, “figurative idolatry,” provides a challenge to the entire framework of moral living that is required of the Christian: Colassians 3:5 - ~ From The New Covenant Scriptures “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which is ” idolatry. A Bible reader once again comes up against the scriptural expectation (and insistence) that Christians are to live within a moral-living framework within marriage as well as outside it. No Christian must remain within a marriage to a murderer, thief, liar, slanderer, abusive, hostile, violent spouse (or any other behavior that is criminal or immoral) merely because that spouse has not committed sexual sins against him/her. What is defined here in connection to the term, "idolatry" is that....immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed...." All of this type of behavior, Jesus has defined as "idolatry." If a married man or woman consistently acts within an immoral framework within marriage, ~ that is behavior that expresses idolatry. It is a betrayal (unfaithfulness) to the morality of the God of the Bible and Jesus noted that it is a “just-cause” basis for divorce. The Christian needs to understand that marriage is a moral agreement based on moral living and within that agreement comes moral obligations at every level of activity and/or interaction. Ephesians 5:5 "For this you know with certainty, that has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." NO immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, Again, this behavior is defined by Jesus Christ as, "idolatry." When Jesus used the word He used within the context He was speaking into (regarding a "just-cause" basis for divorce), He was not teaching that a man or woman could dismiss or discount (or betray) every human right of his/her spouse and just ignore the morals of the God of the bible ~~ and yet if he/she did not commit adultery that his/her spouse had no right to divorce. God-given human rights are not given up upon marriage (nor did Jesus ever teach that they were given up upon marriage). The God-given "expectation of moral living" within all “relationships” (business, social or personal) come along with being married and cannot be morally taken away within marriage by either spouse. The personal choice of Jesus (when He chose the word to use) when He replied to the questions regarding divorce rights, clearly defines a right of expectation of peaceful, moral living within marriage. Jesus refused to define the value(s) of marriage exclusive to sexual faithfulness. Each Christian has a right to an expectation that his/her spouse will live out his/her life within the morals of the God of the Bible. The Bible is logically consistent throughout its writing. The Apostle Paul noted a right to divorce for immoral behavior, following the teachings of Christ. Paul maintained that Christians have been given a "right" to peace Paul's Understanding of Divorce Rights (a right of expectation to be able to live life within a moral living environment within the framework of a peaceful, loving “relationship”) within his/her married life and conscience. Within the time of their day (the First Century), divorce was a private matter. There were no divorce "courts." Jesus recognized this manner of obtaining divorces. There is no biblical reason to limit the of marriage to values sexual faithfulness alone. The words of Jesus provide the evidence that He did not limit the moral values within marriage to human sexuality alone. The teachings of the Apostle Paul reveals that he understood the teachings of Jesus regarding this subject. There is no biblical reason to believe that a man or woman must stay within a marriage that is abusive of the moral standards of the God Who instituted it. As this study will show, Paul knew and taught that there is a “just-cause” right of divorce. What is morally required of the man or woman who divorces his/her spouse Question: without a "just-cause" reason? Paul's Answer: When there is no "just-cause" and a woman or man leaves his/her husband or wife (for some other reason), that person within that context is told by Paul: 1 Corinthians 7:11 " ...( but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away." The words, "but if she does leave, let her " provide the indicator to the Reader, that Paul is speaking of divorce...no person who merely left the abode of his/her spouse had a right to remarry unless they were divorced. remain unmarried Paul would not have included this statement, " let her remain unmarried" if she had merely left her husband's house and support. She was being recognized by Paul as ABLE to remarry within the culture. Paul's context reveals he is talking about people who were divorcing without “just-cause” and while they could remarry within the culture (because they were divorced) Paul was telling them that they should not remarry but be reconciled or remain unmarried (Paul is giving the logical implications to divorcing without "just-cause"... their first objective should be to reconcile - if posssible). Further, the implications of Paul’s response to his admonition to “remain unmarried or be reconciled” within this divorced situation supports the concept that to divorce for no “just-cause” reason ( as it frees the spouse to remarry), places the burden of a quick resolution for reconciliation upon the spouse who left the marriage without “just-cause.” Remarriage Paul's letters provide further support of his understanding of the teachings of Jesus regarding a “just-cause” basis for divorce and remarriage (i.e., that remarriage becomes an automatic right upon divorce) Paul speaks of a divorce right centering upon immoral choices within marriage (one cause being a divorce via abandonment of a marriage through an unjust divorce action); 1 Corinthians 7:15 " Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, ; the brother or the sister is let him leave not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace." The word, "bondage" used here is, "douloo" meaning to "enslave - bring into (be under) bondage, given, become (make) servant" Inherent within the meaning of the word, "dooloo" is - "..in contrast to a personal partnership in marriage, it is used for an absolute, servile obligation in I Corth 7:15." - Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament - Vol. 1 - T & T Clark (publishing house). By Paul using this word by noting the divorced spouse, was "NOT" under "dooloo," [bondage] he provides a statement that this was a divorce by a spouse leaving for no “just-cause” and he was speaking clearly that the remaining, now non-married spouse is NOT under "dooloo" --- to such unjust servile obligation (bondage). Both Jesus' and Paul's choice of words (when speaking regarding divorce rights), supports the truth that, one person does not make a marriage. Paul's position is implicitly expressive of the word, Jesus Christ chose to use regarding "except it be for"...(a just-cause) in His response to the question regarding divorce rights. When a spouse is divorced via a no “just-cause” reason (by the spouse who leaves), Paul was teaching that there was (is) no longer a marriage. Marriage was never intended to be a slavery to immorality (Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul taught that Christians are NOT under bondage to such situations). Whether it be criminal behavior, an unjust divorce-abandonment of the marriage, a loss of relationship rights, deceitful living, a self-entitling "empowerment" which attacks the right to a "self" of the spouse or an unrelenting physical abuse, a non-changing emotionally abusive environment, a rage-filled, non-peace that controls the marriage climate (emotional terrorism) or sexual immorality, Christians have a right to divorce. When Paul wrote that the now-abandoned Christian (divorced unjustly) is called to peace and a Christian is not required to attempt to hold-on to that spouse, he was teaching that this person has a right to remarry. Paul taught that a marriage was a "relationship" in Christ, not a life sentence to the immoral choices of a spouse. Along with Jesus, the apostle Paul, upheld this reality, (that marriage is not one-person doing a solo act), through this letter to the local community of Christians who had marriages being abandoned by one spouse within those marriages. To understand our liberty under the New Covenant does not mean that any Christian has a moral right to trivialize the marriage agreement by divorcing without "just-cause" (or, for that matter, simply ignore the conditions within We each answer to God for our choices ( any agreement that we place our promises on through our signature and oaths). Neither Jesus nor His apostles ever instituted "divorce processes" or earthly "authorities" for Christians regarding divorce or any other matter - See Matthew 23:8-11 - We are all servants of Christ under the New Covenant which is a covenant of personal freedom under the morality of God). Neither Jesus nor His apostles set-up “ divorce professionals" within the Christian community. Activating the divorce right was at that time a personal choice to be based on the immoral abuse of our God-given human rights within Christian morality as taught by Jesus Christ and remains so under the New Covenant. When Jesus chose the word He used regarding the question of divorce rights He was not limiting our human rights within marriage to sexual faithfulness alone: Matthew 19:9 "And , whoever divorces his wife, I say to you , and marries another woman commits adultery." except for immorality Jesus Christ instituted the New Covenant to set the captives free from the eternal consequences of practicing immorality. The Holy Spirit spoke only the morality of Christ through the apostles. Paul shows he understood the teachings of Jesus on the right to divorce for just-cause and affirmed that there is a right to have an expectation for personal peace and moral living within marriage (along with every other human-right being provided). These human rights come from God and these rights remain within all spheres of our lives, including within marriage. Every believer in Jesus Christ who has removed him/herself from a morally lawless past and responded to the God of the Bible by obeying the directive to "put on" Christ through baptism, is Christians are not to place unjust burdens on anyone by denying the very words of Christ and His apostles. Romans 6 & Acts 2:38 ) obligated to: " Be diligent [exceedingly careful] to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15 Jesus expressed His distain for such arrogant people in His day, this way: "And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger." Matthew 23:4 FYI: (See Copyright Information Below Before Printing copy of article:) When Clicking to Print - Code sends the message to top of page before printing. 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